The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle ZevinMy rating: 4 of 5 stars This is a charming little sandwich book. AJ Fikry is a widower who lives above his bookstore and is slowly drinking himself to death when he meets a pretty young bookseller from one of his favorite…
My parents weren’t rich but they always made sure I had a separate celebration for my birthday. Three days after Christmas (it’s also 3 days before New Year’s Eve) is actually the perfect day to celebrate, creating a festival atmosphere on the last week of the year.
As I contemplate my upcoming birthday, a milestone only if one is concerned with prime numbers (I’ll be 43), I realize most of the birthday celebrations in one’s life are for other people. The first birthday usually passes with the gift recipient unaware, drooling on chocolate cake and toddling about to entertain the guests. By the second birthday, the child is able to enjoy opening the gifts but still has no idea why they are receiving them. Birthdays 3-25 are generally anticipated and celebrated by the birthday kid, her friends and family, co-workers and significant other(s). After 25 though, at least for me, the birthday reverts to yet another event requiring observance, if only to avoid appearing gauche for ignoring it.
The Bookworms ladies still call me kid. I’m the second youngest Bookworm, the eldest being 74, and the next eldest ringing in at 71 or so. Although they are loathe to use the ‘seventy’ word, so they tell people they are sixty-fourteen and sixty-eleven, respectively. They’re both aging in grand fashion, retaining their curiosity and joy in small pleasures, so maybe they’re on to something.
All my life I’ve worked inside. I’ve been a waitress, a grocery cashier, a credit union teller, accounting clerk, accounting manager, internal auditor, and an electric utility company member service representative. Now I wear work boots (!!) and have a company truck with a tool box to accommodate my sledge hammer and brush axe. I still have a clipboard. It helps me recognize myself when I picture myself in my mind’s eye slogging through the brush, jumping ditches and annihilating small trees and branches that have committed the crime of blocking my vision from one stake to another.
I’m a staking technician: the person (no longer the ‘guy’) who travels to potential job sites, usually alone, sometimes meeting a homeowner or electrician, to design new electric services, service upgrades or power line extensions or rebuilds. Luckily, I do this in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where the most likely potential threats aren’t man or machine, but wolf or bear. Or domestic dogs, unchained and salivating, rushing to defend their patch of crabgrass decorated with their own leavings. This is where my brush axe becomes a multitasking defense implement that so far I haven’t had to utilize beyond brandishing it in a threatening manner. Dogs are easily impressed with long, swinging sticks with gleaming metal ends.
I’m the first woman to hold this position in my 72-year-old company. I don’t feel as if I’m breaking down barriers, just quietly enjoying the challenges of a physically and mentally demanding job. I’m 40, and I’ve convinced myself it’s a good time of life to drastically switch careers and also to do something outside with the hope of maintaining my slowly ebbing physique. My education is not in engineering but in business management, with very little math, which turns out to be a regrettable disadvantage. But I’m having fun. Each assignment is its own project, much like a puzzle or mind-boggling riddle, and merits its own file filled with color-coded documents and drawings (I’m no artist but my sketches are improving–should have taken drafting as well as trigonometry) with a clear end, when I can close the file and stash it away in the ‘finished’ section of the drawer.
Every day brings a new puzzle requiring a creative solution and I approach it with interest and intensity.
The other night I met a couple high school classmates for a drink at the bar. We’ve been out of school for 22 years now and as I gazed around the table at my dear old friends’ faces I felt every one of those years. We’re all sporting fine lines around our eyes and maybe a few gray hairs; a couple of us have gained a few pounds. As a group, we still look good and our recent or upcoming 40th birthdays provided enough conversation fodder to see us through the evening. Our memories of grade school and high school featured vastly disparate recollections–after hearing a couple stories circa 1986 I wondered if we had in fact attended the same school. We agreed we all blocked out certain memories, sometimes to make room for new ones and sometimes to alleviate humiliation.
There was a time when we said we were going out for a beer, we meant ten or eleven beers. Now when we meet for a beer we each have three or four, then leave the bar early to prevent hangovers. What will happen in twenty more years? Will we sip our Milk of Magnesia together? Maybe we will race our walkers to the bathroom.